Lengthy wait times for health care deadly for women: study

Longer wait times for health care in Canada may have contributed to the deaths of an estimated 44,273 females between 1993 and 2009, according to a new study by the Fraser Institute.

Longer wait times for health care in Canada may have contributed to the deaths of an estimated 44,273 females between 1993 and 2009, according to a new study by the Fraser Institute.

The right-wing think-tank examined the relationship between mortality rates and lengthy wait times for medically necessary care in Canada in its study, The Effect of Wait Times on Mortality in Canada, released on Tuesday.

Unlike other reports on the negative impact of wait times, this study looked at how many people actually die as a result and discovered that as wait times increased between referral from a general practitioner and treatment, so did the rate of female mortality.

“While numerous studies have shown a relationship between delayed access to medical health care and death, the overall impact of mortality rates of prolonged delays in obtaining medically necessary care has not been measured previously,” said one of the study’s authors, Nadeem Esmail, on Tuesday.

The 44,273 deaths represented 2.5 per cent of all female deaths in Canada during that 16-year period, or 1.2 per cent of Canada’s total mortality for males and females.

No significant relationship between wait times and male mortality rates was found.

The study also discovered that for every one-week increase in post-referral wait time for medically necessary elective procedures, three females died per 100,000 women.

A separate analysis showed changes in wait times for cardiovascular treatments were associated with approximately 662 potentially avoidable female deaths between 1994 and 2009.

Possible explanations for the disparity between males and females put forward in the study were the increase in participation of women in the workforce, which may be accompanied by more accidents and increased stress, smoking and drinking; mortality due to falls was slightly more common in females; and systemic gender biases in access to health care.

Esmail said the solution is obvious — reform Canadian health-care policy by adding private health care.

He said that doesn’t mean getting rid of the universal health-care system.

“Belgium, France, Germany, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland all have universal access health-care systems without lengthy queues for treatment, without waiting lists. They share the compassionate goal of universal access to high quality care in a time frame that provides comfort and peace of mind. The difference is by employing policies like competition and user fees, they are able to actually deliver on the promise,” Esmail said.

He said Canada could follow the Swedish example where hospitals are handed over to the private sector for operation and compete for patients on an activity-funded basis, and patients share in the financial responsibility of health care with reasonable annual limits and exemptions for low-income populations.

Or Canada could go even further and follow the lead of countries like Germany where the operation of the health-care system is taken out of government’s hands and given to independent if not private authorities, with government taking an appropriate regulatory and oversight role, he said.

Esmail said incorporating privatization wouldn’t require more funding and it will solve the waiting problem for everybody, not just females.

Derrick Callan, chair of the Council of Canadians, Red Deer and Area Chapter, said he’d be careful about leaping to the same conclusion based on the results of this study.

“I know that there are countries that have the mixed model and their health-care system is a bit more effective. I’m just worried about where do we draw the line,” Callan said.

He wondered if privately run facilities would get the better doctors and access to health care for low-income Canadians would be restricted.

He also wanted to know more about why women faced a higher mortality rate.

“That we don’t know and I don’t think the study really shows the reason why,” Callan said.

Brenda Corney, chairperson of Friends of Medicare Red Deer chapter, said the higher mortality rate among women is probably correct, but the answer lies in improving Canada’s existing universal health-care system.

“We have a system we can fix. I really believe that can be accomplished. I believe that we’re a smart enough country that if we had the will to do it, we could do it. But we have people standing around wanting to make a profit,” Corney said.

Last year, the left-leaning Parkland Institute showed how much money is being made by private for-profit assisted living facilities in its report, From Bad to Worse: Residential elder care in Alberta, she said.

“It’s huge. It’s more than you’d make on any stock market anywhere.”

“If they could get into providing acute care, they could make tons of money. This isn’t about people, it’s about money.”

And people are not commodities, Corney said.

The report from the Fraser Institute can be found at www.fraserinstitute.org.


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